Cancer Myths

Dispelling the Myths About Cancer



How can we remove the myths, decrease the fear and demystify the “C” word? Easy Cancer 411 is a step in the right direction – being educated on the basics and fundamentals of cancer. Below are a few common myths that are considered stumbling blocks for some patients. We hope the brief explanation will offer a cause for pause, some clarity and possibly lead to better decisions on cancer treatments!

In general, genetics accounts for ~15% of Cancers. For example, in 2016 estimated new cancer cases were 822,300 men (deaths 300,430) and 774,370 women (deaths 271,520).  That means, of the thousands of people diagnosed w/Cancer in 2016 only a small number is genetic related.  There are many other common factors associated with the development of cancers including, but not limited to alcohol, tobacco use, exposure to certain harmful chemicals, etc.,

This is a myth based on pure perception, as most are unaware of the truth of that person’s situation.  If symptoms/signs are experienced (example; coughing up blood, blood in stool, experiencing menstrual cycle years after menopause, new lump in breast, etc.,) visiting a doctor as soon as possible should be the #1 priority. If ignored, this can lead to worsening state at presentation that may prompt a visit to Emergency Department … at that time, the disease may have spread throughout the body and a cure would be less likely.  New development of bodily signs or symptoms should never be ignored.

As Oncology staff, we do understand why it may be perceived that way. In many cases, the treatment is tough, but tolerable.  One may consider the alternative to “no treatment” is that the disease WILL progress and cause the same or worse, (sometimes very painful) symptoms. Keep in mind, recovery from symptoms caused by the Cancer itself is unlikely, but one can recover, in most cases, from the side effects of treatments. Many may experience a tough period with chemotherapy, but many recover from it fully – example hair regrowth, but the lingering effects of neuropathy may last a long time.  Yes, there are some battles that are eventually lost, but an initial fight may be more beneficial than total surrender.

Yes, it is true that cancer cells require lots of sugar (glucose) for energy to grow and multiply. However, the brain, heart, and every cell in the body require sugar for energy as well.  Active organs, such as heart and brain, require more sugar for energy than muscles at rest. Also, the body is very smart! If only carbohydrates, such as rice, flour, etc., are eaten then the body will convert carbohydrates into simple sugar. So in advertently, the body will get the energy it needs…and so will the cancer.  Embarking on a “no sugar diet” would deprive the entire body of energy and patients have eventually feinted due to low blood glucose and taken to the Emergency Department. This approach is not a successful one. Talk to your doctor about the proper treatment and what can be done.

Beginning at age 50 (now age 45 for Blacks/African American), men and women should have one of the 5 common types of examination: flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, Colonoscopy every 10 years, double contrast enema every 5yrs, CT colonography, or fecal occult blood test (FOBT) every year (speak with a Primary Care Managers (PCMs) for more details on recommendations for personal appropriate screening).

There is a belief that toxins from your GI tract can cause a variety of health problems such as arthritis, allergies, asthma, etc.,. There is little evidence to support that colon cleansing (irrigation) improves health, but is known that in some cases it may be harmful (discussion beyond the scope of this Q&A).  Precaution: Check with PCM/Doctor before embarking on any new venture – some herbal supplements may cause health problems or interact with certain medication.

This is a very difficult topic to address…and it is definitely not an easy thing to process when everything in life is going conceivably well and everything is being done right.  We do not have all the answers.   The current statistics state that 1 in 4 people will develop cancer in their lifetime. Some cancer, such as prostate, is slow growing and the risk increase with age. Breast cancer risk also increases with age, but there are also other associated risk factors. There are famous athletes who have done everything right still was diagnosed with cancer at a young age. However, being relatively healthy and good shape, allows patient to tolerate otherwise VERY tough treatment.  The mind and the body work together as a unit. Studies have shown that a patient’s state of mind makes a difference in treatment recovery, at all levels.

It is a commonly held belief among Oncologist that the USPTF recommendation could prove to be detrimental to some patients, especially those in the Black/African American community, if it is strictly followed.  It did mention however, that this recommendation may not be applicable to Black Males. It is important to understand that being a Black male places a patient at higher risk for developing prostate cancer. It is currently being debated that prostate cancer is over-treated and some are slow growing and does not require treatment at all.  It is our opinion that it is better to know the diagnosis and make the appropriate decision for Active Surveillance (AS), if applicable, than to miss an advance disease. Black males should have their baseline PSA beginning at age 40…and all males should know their PSA number by age 50.

This myth lies in the unwillingness to admit decrease performance with age, or alternatively, development of ED with age.  In a room with 5 males – age 45, 57, 66, 73, 81 – most all would rate themselves as functioning as well as a 21yo – which may or may not be the case (Please see the Sexual Health Inventory for Men [SHIM] in Cancer 102 – prostate cancer section).  Treatment for prostate cancer will worsen ED. There are MANY treatments available for ED – pills, injections, pumps, and implants (See videos Cancer 102 – Prostate Cancer section). Speak with an Urologists can provide more information.  Know that you are not alone – there are MANY men who are using more than just the pill form and they are leading healthy, happy lives with pleased partners. Consider that being around and “living” may also mean more to the patient and love ones in the long run than the possibility of worsening ED.

This myth is the most disturbing to us.  We have witnessed first hand what happens when a potentially curative condition is “self-treated” and 6 – 12 months later the condition worsens and disease spread to other parts of the body, making control of the caner less likely.  Straight talk – When someone is given a serious diagnosis, (cancer, heart disease, etc.,) it is never the right time to try and self-medicate or “fix” the body with supplements, herbs and other unknowns. We have seen the negative outcome of well-intentioned patients who self treat cancer – it is never good.  A better approach would be to allow the Oncology team to assist and choose the conventional treatment option that is most reasonable. Sometimes, when face with patient opting for “no treatment” some Oncology team will concede to conventional treatment plus unconventional treatments. There is a way to take back control…but it requires working with Oncology teams.

Talking about cancer is now becoming more accepted in many sectors of the community and groups and is often discussed on television programs and in the news.  Additionally, some organizations offer assistance in many forms and ability to speak with others who are survivors of certain types of cancer. It is never advisable to ignore symptoms that are being experienced – A symptom (coughing up blood, blood in stool, lump in breast, sore in mouth, etc.,) is the body’s way of announcing that something is wrong. Listen!  When cars make new, weird sounds, we all are quick to investigate and ask a mechanic to assist. The body is more important than a car. Find out what is going on and allow your physician (PCM/PCP) to assist in the process – it may not be cancer.  Additionally, we offer services for speaking engagements over the past decade and we remain available, if such services are needed.

It is not intentional. Our native language is “doctor-ese” and translation to layman terms can be more difficult for some, than others. It is just a language that most do not know how to step away from, but patients have the right to request simplification in terms easier to understand.  Cancer 101 and Cancer 102 will assist in understanding some of the fundamentals in cancer diagnosis and treatment process. We this site will improve communication with Oncology teams!

Conclusion: There are many myths that exist and these are just a few!  It is our hope that bringing these myths to the forefront and correcting them will make a difference in our community and all patients.

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